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Jungle Fever (1991)

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Friends and family of a married black architect react in different ways to his affair with an Italian secretary.

Director:

Spike Lee

Writer:

Spike Lee
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6 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Wesley Snipes ... Flipper Purify
Annabella Sciorra ... Angie Tucci
Spike Lee ... Cyrus
Ossie Davis ... The Good Reverend Doctor Purify
Ruby Dee ... Lucinda Purify
Samuel L. Jackson ... Gator Purify
Lonette McKee ... Drew
John Turturro ... Paulie Carbone
Frank Vincent ... Mike Tucci
Anthony Quinn ... Lou Carbone
Halle Berry ... Vivian
Tyra Ferrell ... Orin Goode
Veronica Webb ... Vera
Veronica Timbers Veronica Timbers ... Ming
David Dundara David Dundara ... Charlie Tucci
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Storyline

A successful and married black man contemplates having an affair with a white girl from work. He's quite rightly worried that the racial difference would make an already taboo relationship even worse. Written by Murray Chapman <muzzle@cs.uq.oz.au>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for sensuality, strong language, drug content, and for violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

7 June 1991 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A Febre da Selva See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$14,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$32,482,682
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby SR

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The Cannes Film Festival introduced the Best Supporting Actor Award specifically to honor Samuel L. Jackson. Previous honorees in the same category are Jack Thompson in Breaker Morant (1980) and Sir Ian Holm in Chariots of Fire (1981). See more »

Goofs

Cameraman's shadow on Flipper when he is telling Cyrus he cheated on Drew See more »

Quotes

Lucinda Purify: [Gator is roughly searching though his mother's apartment looking for money, tossing aside coupons] I save a lot of money using them coupons!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Before the opening credits, an 'in memory of' Yousef Hawkins is made See more »

Connections

Referenced in Next Friday (2000) See more »

Soundtracks

Chemical Love
Music by Stevie Wonder
Lyrics by Stephanie Andrews
Courtesy of Mor-Lovabull Music, BMI
by arrangement with Stevland Morris Music, ASCAP
See more »

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User Reviews

 
United Colors of America ...
17 October 2011 | by ElMaruecan82See all my reviews

Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" is an eye-opening introspection into the limits of that so-called melting pot sold by America as the epitome of tolerance and universalism... yet contradicted by the statistics and all the racial tension that prevailed in the early 90's. As a social commentary, the movie raises many important issues about interracial relationships in a less politically lauded tone than the iconic "Do The Right Thing", which is a wise choice for a movie mostly centered on human relationships.

Through Stevie Wonder's titular song, "Jungle Fever" refers to the diagnosis of that strange mutual attraction between two persons from different races. The term strongly implies the idea of a relationship against Nature's law, if not a sickness, a deviation. And the central couple to deviate is Flipper, an ambitious architect, and Angie, his new secretary. He's Black, she's Italian. He lives in Harlem, she's from Benston Hurst, he's married with one daughter, she has three men, and two too many: her father (Frank Vincent), and her two brothers. Angie's doom is that she's young and single enough to be the overprotected sister, but mature enough to take care of the house. Angie dates Paulie, a shy and affable storekeeper (John Turturro) in a relationship that doesn't really ring true. Whatever is obviously lacking, Angie would find it in Flipper.

Spike Lee's direction patiently depicts the growing attraction between Flipper and Angie. Interestingly, the first door to a growing intimacy is opened when they break the taboo of races and talk about it in the most casual way. And after that, we stop looking at the difference of skins, and pay more attention to the contents of their hearts. So they have sex, and no sex scene is sugarcoated in Spike Lee's film, not overdone either, but what is Spike Lee's point? To insist that it's only sexual like in adultery, or because of the 'Jungle Fever'? Whatever theory we believe in, the relationship would be wrong, but Lee cares less about pleasing us ethically than inviting us to examine the aftermath of that pivotal night where a Black man and a Italian (Caucasian) woman … did it.

And the way the relationship evolves could be perceived as bad writing on the surface, while it's only extremely well-written 'bad reactions'. For one thing, the adultery is less condemned than its interracial nature. Flipper's wife, Drew (Lonette McKee) is from a mixed couple, and always feared to be only one step in Flipper's attraction process toward light skinned women, until he'd finally go with a plain Caucasian. Flipper's denial might be sincere but then why did he ask his bosses to only hire African American women? Did he know he would automatically fall in love with a Caucasian? The ambiguity remains and is displayed from a different perspective during a dinner with Flipper's parents played by the veteran actors Ossie Davis, as a fanatic preacher, and Ruby Dee, a loving mother and devoted wife.

Flipper's father reminds Angie that white women always sensed an exciting mix of fear and fascination toward Black men and this is what ultimately tarnished the purity of the race, by providing so many mixed ethnicities. While succeeding on the field of disturbing realism, this scene allows us to understand Flipper's background and the amount of pressure he and Angie would endure, Angie, almost beaten to death by her 'dishonored' father, is then coldly compared to a whore. The couple wouldn't survive this last display of hatred and rejection, and in a very thought-provoking approach from Spike Lee, Flipper breaks up with Angie with a very calculated arrogance by pretending it has never been love. In a way, he joined the cause of those who pretend it's all about black men seeing that white is right women-wise, and white girls seeing blacks as sexual supermen, Jungle Fever … again.

Flipper uses an obvious carapace to hide his own weaknesses. In many intimate scenes, he's the one lying beneath the shadow, while Angie's face shines under the window's light. She's genuinely in love with him while Flipper opts for a more convenient pragmatism. Again, no one is right or wrong, Flipper has many responsibilities and Angie's simply in need of a disinterested love, she's the victim of this relationship, as the one who lost the most, her 'honor', her boyfriend, and the man for which she took the risk to lose everything. The counterpoint of this failed relationship is Paulie's tender and more optimistic romance. Paulie who also grew up with an authoritarian fatherly figure (Anthonny Quinn) and endures the racist pressure of his entourage, but finally decides to date Ordyl, the woman who's always so nice to her, regardless of any skin consideration.

But Flipper and Angie's relationship is less the core than the starting point of the analytic journey into the myths that surround sex, part-pride, part-doom, total pressure, marked by a great deal of hypocrisy and suspicion, due to the weight of history. Here comes the most poignant subplot involving the crack addiction of Flipper's brother, Gator, Samuel L. Jackson in an Oscar worthy performance. Gator's descent into self-destruction is the emotional pillar of the film allowing us to put Flipper's romance into perspective. There's more to worry about for the Black community, which in quest of its identity is torn between two unacceptable realities: degradation or obedience to the white man rules. Is 'Jungle Fever' the first step of that assimilation? The ending is a father's cry of despair for never seeing his daughter falling in that trap anyway.

"Jungle Fever" works less as a romance than as realistic depiction of the racial myths poisoning the society. Through many secondary characters with an impressive level of depth and believability, we realize that most of them defines themselves through their ethnicity … as pure survival instinct. When the world is a jungle, it can only inspire self-preservation.


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